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January 20, 2013 Wine , , , , ,

Terroirbly Confusing – Part 2

Welcome back viewers,

It seems the festive season just keeps on giving, hence the delay in getting this post up and finished; I hope you’ll forgive me! I’ve been busy squirreling away on a few new initiatives that should see the light of day over the coming months, I hope you’ll all appreciate the new LTLT experiences as they come to fruition!

Yeah sure

squirreling away eh?…

The first announcement is that I’m supporting the excellent campaign ‘Five in Five‘, which encourages people to go on 5 dates in 5 weeks to raise money for charity. It’s great, light hearted fun for a great cause and I implore you to check it out, share it and get involved! I’ll be providing some date-friendly wine tips and a prize and am very excited to be involved.

Now, back to the blogging… I’ve been threatening to write about Burgundy for some time now and you’d be hard pressed to find a better first step than a discussion about all things terroir. In Part 1 of this discussion, I looked at how in Australia we are keen to understand how the environment contributes to the differences that we see between wines but are really still just learning about macro site differences rather than the subtle changes that really start to differentiate a good from a great terroir.

So why Burgundy? Of all the classified regions that I’m familiar, it’s the region that takes the most pride in highlighting the specifics of where every bottle is grown and is one of the most studied (and storied) in the world. In short, it’s a nerd’s paradise. This is not to say that the ‘rules’ are straightforward and without inconsistency, nor that no one else can have a deep understanding of their land and climate; the purpose of this discussion is as a contrast. There is endless detail I could go into, but it is unnecessary to this piece so I’ll try and keep it simple. My apologies to any trainspotters if I err on the side of over-generalisation.

The Cote d’Or (Hill of gold) which forms the spine of the Bourgogne region runs for roughly 50km in a NNW direction finishing about 10km SSE of Dijon in Central-West France. Almost the entire strip is under vine (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay almost exclusively) and has most probably been producing wine since the first century BC, when the Romans were in the area. It’s largely uneventful country to look at, but produces some of the most event-worthy wine on the planet. And most importantly to this discussion, the whole lot is classified vineyard by vineyard into levels of quality.

An example of the classification, from left to right this map covers about 2.5km

An example of the classification, from left to right this map covers about 2.5km

The main classification was done in 1855, which is roughly when the first Australian settlers were getting onto the business of planting vines in the Barossa. Using their 2000 year head start on Australia, they’ve worked hard at understanding their land and hence the region has a significantly more developed understanding of it’s terroir than we can possibly expect to have locally.

Let’s start by looking at the relatively macro effects. Most of the Cote has similar topography, a gently sloping hill, and the climate is so marginal that small differences in aspect can create vast differences in fruit ripeness due to the extra/lesser few minutes each day that the different vineyards receive sunlight. On the flats at the base of the hill lie the lowest classified land, which can only name their wines as coming from the Bourgogne region. Being flat, the soil doesn’t drain as well as the hill and it gets less sunlight making it harder to ripen the grapes. About 2/3 of the way up the hill, in the area known as the ‘kidney’ of the slope, lie (almost) exclusively the highest classified ‘Grand Cru’ land. This land gets the perfect amount of sunlight, is well drained, and being on a slope allows the vine roots to go through many different soil types, each of which impart character into the finished product.

Where things really take a leap ahead though is when you look at differences between vineyards and how together they combine as a set of data points to form an unmistakable trend. Broadly, all the vineyards in Volnay (as pictured above) share similar characters which can be used to define the village style. But within that overarching village style, there are distinct differences in land, slope, aspect, soil composition, etc etc etc which go on to communicate distinct characters into the wines from that particular site which are not found elsewhere.

This subtlety of understanding is where the difference is most magnified and forms the crux of my argument that discussions about Australian terroir are done with much of the ‘picture’ missing. We have found some great places, dare I call them meta-terroir, that suit particular grapes – the magic strip of Terra Rossa in Coonawarra being a prime example. We have some great sites with unique and special terroir – Henschke’s Hill of Grace being probably our best known single vineyard wine. But keep your wits about you when you hear someone comparing different terroirs because we just don’t have enough knowledge to comment on any more than a macro level.

What’s exciting though, is all the fantastic wine we’ll make (and sites we’ll discover) as we head towards a higher level of understanding about that magical relationship between site, varietal and winemaker!

Happy Drinking,

Peter